What makes one steak restaurant different from another? With a plethora of such eateries now open in our fair city, I was faced with that dilemma in trying to differentiate the newest entry into the lot, the uniquely delightful Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar (242 N. Beverly Drive, a block above Wilshire in the heart of Beverly Hills, (310) 278-8710).
Here is how I judge a steakhouse: first, there are the people behind it and running it. Then there are the ingredients they use, especially important in a restaurant which will be judged primarily by one major ingredient, the beef. Then there is the atmosphere, service, and pricing, and we all bring a certain degree of experience and memories with us when we go to this kind of eatery. I know that I was somewhat skeptical about my first visit to Fleming's, for I have a long history of friendship with Paul Fleming, the founder of the chain, and I didn't want that to influence me in this Huffington review.
And I bring certain steakhouse prejudices with me, including one peculiar to me and a few other picky eaters... can they cook a steak the way that I like it, black and blue. Which means, can they get me a Prime ribeye with bone cooked so that it is deeply charred on the outside yet reddish pink rare in the center? You would be surprised how many vaunted steakhouses fail on that score. One of the reasons that I like and frequent Wolfgang Puck's Cut in the Beverly Wilshire is that chef Ari Rosenson knows when he sees me walk in the door that he must prepare a steak in that peculiar way or I will be very unhappy. And for some reason restaurants these days don't like me to be unhappy. The power of the press, I guess.
My Prime Bone-in Ribeye cooked as I like it, black and blue. One of the best steaks I have had in years.
Actually, my unusual taste in steak doneness originated some 28 years ago with the selfsame Paul Fleming. This young fellow from Louisiana opened up a franchise steakhouse in Beverly Hills called, strangely, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. He explained the name to me at the time as being because he had obtained one of the first franchises from a New Orleans woman named Ruth Fertig, who had opened a Chris Steak House in that southern city. It was unique in that they had come up with a grill which could cook their steaks at some ungodly hot temperature like a thousand+ degrees or so, and thus I was treated to the first-ever (for me) black and blue hunk of meat, and I was hooked.
I wrote the first review of his steakhouse, and commiserated with him when he had a kitchen fire and had to rebuild it in 1984. He went on to open other such steakhouses in Arizona and Hawaii, before selling the six of them back to the parent company after 12 years. Paul went on to open ZTejas Southwestern Grill, which now operates 12 restaurants in five states. Knowing of my deep love for all Chinese food, he kept me informed as he began to develop the P.F. Chang's China Bistro, opening the first in 1993 in Scottsdale, AZ, and I remember my amazed pleasure at reviewing the first one here in the Beverly Center on La Cienega, rashly offering my opinion on certain dishes, but loving the sparkling fresh tastes of that Chinese dining experience.
Now they are all over the place, still offering fresh-tasting (if somewhat Americanized) Chinese food. He then conceptualized Pei Wei Asian Diner, a casual quick-service offshoot of P.F Chang's. I then heard that Paul had teamed up with Bill Allen to open the first Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in 1998 in Newport Beach, Calif., which is a joint venture with Bloomin' Brands and now has 65 branches 'round the country. (Their parent company, BBI, out of Tampa, also owns the Outback Steakhouse chain.) In 2006 Paul Fleming partnered with Brian Bennett to create Paul Martin's American Bistro, a restaurant concept based on natural, organic and healthy seafood, meats and wines simply prepared and supplied by a network of small, artisanal purveyors, Today there are four of them with plans for expansion.
The Double-Thick Pork Rib Chop, which has been brined before grilling
Executive Chef Brandon Powell is the young talent in the Beverly Hills kitchen.
BBQ Scottish Salmon is an alternative to the mat dishes on the menu.
But somehow I had never been to a Fleming's until last week, when I was offered an opportunity to meet Skip Fox, the president of the operation, who has been with them for 12 years. They asked if I would submit any questions that I had for him up front, and I laughed and said that I'm not that kind of reporter and he isn't a head of state, and I do things off-the-cuff and one-on-one. But yes, I would submit one question to him in advance... what makes Fleming's different from other steakhouses? And I hope this review will answer that question to your -- and my -- satisfaction.
President Skip Fix has been with Fleming's for 12 years and answered all my questions.
After several satisfying meals at the new Beverly Hills location, I must note this... I had one of the best steaks of my life on my first visit... a bone-in Ribeye ($49.95) cooked "black and blue" perfectly to my satisfaction. You see, when President Skip Fox heard of my little idiosyncrasy, he laughed and said, "Our two grills can heat up to 1600 degrees, probably the hottest anywhere in the world. So getting your steak done your way should not be a problem." Later, when I met Chef Brandon Powell, he told me that in his experience about one in a dozen diners like their steak that way, very charred yet rare on the inside. "The key," he said, "was to watch it carefully every second of the time so it doesn't burn at such a high temperature. And the fact that we are starting with an aged Prime piece of meat which is at least one-and-a-half inches thick is imperative." I asked about the prep and he said that the steaks are dusted with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper before grilling. (Not served like Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, which puts a dab of herb butter on every steak as it is carried out to the table.) I had to ask also about the splendid Fleming's Potatoes ($9.95), their version of scalloped spuds, made with cheddar cheese and a touch of cream, topped with jalapeno peppers. Most of the sides are $8-9, and I can heartily recommend the Chipotle Macaroni & Cheese, the Sauteed Mushrooms, and of course at a steakhouse, Creamed Spinach to die for.
My dinner companion one evening ordered a Pork Rib Chop ($45.50), and on tasting it I found it too sweet by far with its julienne of apples and jicama, glazed with creole mustard and apple cider. My recommendation: ask for it grilled plain, without those additions. More to my taste was the New Zealand Petit Lamb Chops ($22.95), served as a small plate with pistachio-mint pesto, "F17" sauce and polenta fries. Those small plates are amazing and I can conceive of many dinners when I order a few of them instead of a main course. Think Jumbo Shrimp Skewers ($19.50, they also call them scampi, but that's redundant with shrimp), served with a picante chimichurri sauce. I have also sampled the Scallop small plate ($21.95), the shellfish from New Bedford served with a Meyer lemon-honey glaze and some veggies.
My favorite: the Fleming's Lobster Tempura ($25.95), with a soy-ginger dipping sauce and salads. Speaking of salads, I would strongly recommend the Fleming's Salad ($9.95), candied walnuts, dried cranberries, tomatoes, onions and croutons atop the greens. My dinner companion of an evening said she always orders the Wedge Salad $10.50), a hunk of crisp iceberg lettuce with grape tomatoes, red onions and pungent blue cheese. My date liked the classic Caesar ($9.95) , hearts of romaine, parmesan, croutons that had been baked with whole grain mustard.
Pan-crisp Pork Belly is a fabulous new starter just added to the menu. Loved it!
The French Onion Soup is the best I've had outside of Paris. A strong beef broth is the secret.
Flemong's Potatoes are a 'must' sidedish.
There desserts are superb representations of the best a steakhouse can offer.
So much exciting food... so little space to write about it. I am a stickler for authentic French Onion Soup ($10.95), demanding that the beef broth be rich and strong... like it is here. The parmesan and gruyere cheeses melted on top will literally string you along from spoon to mouth. A dozen more appetizers and small plates still to be tried: Mushroom Ravioli, Baked Brie, Tenderloin Carpaccio, Calamari, and Braised Short Ribs. The modern Shrimp Cocktail ($17.95) is a half dozen jumbo shrimp served with a chipotle horseradish cocktail sauce. Next visit will see me digging into the Crab Cakes ($17.50), made with jumbo lump crab with roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce. There was a Seafood Tower served at the next table for two or more, the platter with lobster, shrimp, crab and other shellfish.
The Prime Flet Mignon is not my favorite cut, but here it is juicy delicious.
Tai Nguyen is the operating partner here in Beverly Hils, a nice charming guy. Meet him.
Back to those Prime steaks. Apart from the Filet, which I never order...a boring cut of meat, there is a New York Steak ($45.15) and those prime Ribeyes. But now they have introduced two new classics: a Porcini-rubbed Filet Mignon and also a Peppercorn Steak. Incidentally, you can get several complimentary sauces upon request: I always order a bearnaise, and occasionally a madeira and peppercorn as well as their proprietary "F1 7" Until the end of January, you can get either of these two steaks with a full "Savor and Sip" three-course dinner for only $49.95, including an oversized glass of wine, and on Sunday nights this month (til Feb. 10th) a three-course Prime Rib dinner for $29.95 excluding tax and gratuity. (Unfortunately, no prime rib bones are included.)
I met with Wine Director Maeve Pesquera and discussed my predilection for Justin and Laetita wines, which will be continued. The Fleming's 100 are those hundred vintages available by the glass, and I saw for the first time an iPad wine tablet, a subject for another Huffington. Yes, there is seafood for those who choose to pass on a hunk of beef, from BBQ Scottish Salmon ($35.95) to Alaskan King Crab Legs and Atlantic Lobster Tails ($24.95 each). Last night there was a special of Chilean Sea Bass, one of my favorite fish. The tempting desserts are made from scratch each day, all served tableside with Chantilly cream and not to be denied are the Chocolate Lava Cake ($11.50),wonderful Crème Brulee and, of course, Cheesecake ($9.95).
Fleming's has also introduced a new way to make a memorable start to the evening with their "5 for 6 'til 7" bar menu, which offers six premium cocktails, five wines by the glass, and five signature appetizers... all priced at $6 each, a rather sterling value which is available until 7 p.m. seven nights a week.
Space precludes me from going into a detailed description of these beautiful, romantic premises, which until recently were the home of the L.A. Food Show opened by my buddies from California Pizza Kitchen. But the Fleming's folks have rebuilt from scratch, and it is now a stunning...even astonishing, location, all glass and steel and burnished wood, 250 seats with a private room upstairs and small patio. Tai Nguyen, the Operating Partner here in Beverly Hills, a charming and knowledgeable host, walked me through the lovely dining room built around an open kitchen and an expansive bar. Portraits of famous winemakers adorn the walls, a nice touch.
Fleming's is a wonderful surprise, with its elegant ambiance, style and sophistication. The food is delicious and more than fairly priced, with some welcome touches such as lighting which throws off a warm amber glow. Personal attention and caring service make a visit here something which we will want to repeat often.
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